"contra Plantinga's Free Will Defense"?
Kevin Kim has posted a blog entry, "contra Plantinga's Free Will Defense," promising a future post on the subject but also providing some links to critiques offered by others.
One such link is to a paper by Niclas Berggren titled "Does the Free-Will Defense Constitute a Sound Theodicy?" I haven't read Berggren's article, but the title suggests a misunderstanding of Alvin Plantinga's free will defense of God's omnibenevolence, granted that God is omniscient and omnipotent and that evil is a problematic reality.
Plantinga would agree that his free will defense doesn't constitute a sound theodicy because a defense is not intended as a theodicy.
Plantinga formulated his free will defense simply as a formal argument intended to demonstrate that a logical contradiction cannot be proven in the following conjunction of statements:
1. God is omniscient.Plantinga argues that God might have a good reason for creating a world in which evil could arise, and he suggests that the gift of morally significant free will might be one such reason. If such free will is a great good, then God might be justified in creating creatures with free will despite the possibility that they would misuse their freedom to choose moral evil.
2. God is omnipotent.
3. God is omnibenevolent.
4. Evil exists.
In his argument, Plantinga notes the special case of natural evil, i.e., evil outside of human agency, e.g., such as the event of a large asteroid striking the earth and causing great suffering (my example). Plantinga suggests that natural evil could have resulted from the free actions of fallen angels, thereby making such evil a consequence of moral evil.
The philosopher J. L. Mackie, unpersuaded by this argument, acknowledges the formal possibility but considers the supposition of fallen angels an arbitrary one. He begins by recalling the problem of natural evil, the moves to his criticism of Plantinga's argument:
But the vast majority of natural evils cannot be ascribed to human choices at all, and it seems, therefore, that the free will defense cannot cover them even indirectly. But Alvin Plantinga argues that it can cover them, since they can be ascribed to the malevolent actions of fallen angels. Formally, no doubt, this is possible; but it is another of what Cleanthes called arbitrary suppositions. While we have a direct acquaintance with some wrong human choices -- our own -- and our everyday understanding extends to the recognition of the like choices of other human beings, we have no such knowledge of the activities of angels, fallen or otherwise: these are at best part of the religious hypothesis which is still in dispute, and cannot be relied upon to give it any positive support.Mackie's acknowledgment that "[f]ormally . . . this is possible" -- i.e., that Plantinga's argument that natural evil might result from moral evil is formally possible -- is all that Plantinga needs since the free will defense is no theodicy. All that Plantinga need demonstrate is that there is no proven formal inconsistency in affirming God's omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence despite the fact of evil.
J. L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism: Arguments for and against the Existence of God (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), pages 162-163.
Mackie considers Plantinga's supposition of the "malevolent actions of fallen angels" to be "arbitrary" and incapable of offering any "positive support," but that is irrelevant to Plantinga's limited free will defense, which is basically a negative argument to the effect that no contradiction has been proven in affirming God's omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence despite the fact of evil.
I'd also dispute Mackie's choice of the term "arbitrary." Plantinga hasn't introduced an arbitrary supposition. He has simply noted that the theological view of natural evil as a consequence of moral evil is a long-standing Christian position. Mackie might consider that Christian position a long-standing arbitrary supposition, but that objection would still be irrelevant to Plantinga's limited, formal argument.
Plantinga does not set out to convert the skeptic by finding means to "justifie the wayes of God to men" (John Milton, Paradise Lost 1.26), for unlike Milton, he pursues no theodicy. Rather, he seeks to show that no logical contradiction has been demonstrated in the conjunction of the fact of evil with God's omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence.
In that limited sense, he seems to have succeeded.